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Ten Years Later

Truth be told, I don't have a particularly impressive 9/11 story. The day before the attacks, I had been in Los Angeles with friends; I nearly decided to change my flight to return a day or so later, but fortunately I did not. I returned to Anchorage late at night on September 10th, and decided to sleep in the next morning.

I vaguely remember my phone ringing in the middle of the night; it seemed like the people leaving messages on my answering machine (this being the time when people had landlines and answering machines) were crying. By the time I hauled myself out of bed, it was late morning in Alaska, and the rest of the country had been on high alert for five or six hours. I listened to the voice mail messages, tearful descriptions of people throwing themselves from the twin towers, pleas to turn on the television.

It took a while for the scale of it all to hit me. I grew up with terrorism; it was an everyday part of my life, as it was for anybody growing up in Britain and Ireland in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Yeah, it was clearly a terrorist attack, and it was obviously al-Qaeda, but perhaps because I had missed the unfolding of events I did not initially grasp the enormity of this particular event. My parents, filled with the worry that enables parents to completely ignore facts and common sense, and feel sure that I was somehow in danger even though I was in Alaska, could not reach me and were wondering why I was not calling them. I'm not sure in the end if I did so, or whether my eldest brother in Japan reached me first. It may have been the latter.

Over subsequent days, however, I, like many, become immersed to the point of obsession. I felt the weight of an innocence lost, yearned to be able to turn back the clock to September 10. A couple of weeks later, not too long after flights resumed, I flew to Amsterdam. I remember being in a coffee shop of some description, and catching a glimpse, by the cash register, of a photograph of the towers, proudly set against a blue sky. Within a little more than a year, personal agendas and political opportunism led the United States into a reckless and lamentable war that caused the country, at least for a while, to lose whatever sympathy, empathy and support it had engendered. But at that moment, that quiet expression of solidarity made me forget I was several thousand miles away from home.
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